Holiday parties and sexual harassment: What to know

Love them or hate them, it’s time for the annual “company party” season to start. Owners and managers often view holiday parties as a way to reward their employees for another year of hard work and build more connected, cohesive teams. 

Holiday parties, however, are often the source of problems, particularly when alcohol is involved. After a few drinks, even your boss or manager may start to behave in inappropriate ways — such as becoming sexually aggressive. 

Does it count as workplace sexual harassment if it wasn’t at work? 

An incident doesn’t have to happen inside your manager’s office or a locked conference room to count as workplace sexual harassment. In fact, workplace sexual harassment can happen over the internet, while on a company trip and — of course — at an office party. 

What does sexual harassment at a holiday party look like? The possibilities are endless, but here are some common examples: 

  • Your male boss and a few of your male co-workers begin making sexual jokes or comments about you and the other female employees.
  • Your manager has a few drinks too many and tries to force you to kiss her under the mistletoe, groping you while she does it.
  • Your co-worker propositions you for sex, get furious when you decline and starts making inappropriate comments about you to others. 

Whatever the situation, you need to take immediate steps to protect your interests. Write down everything that happened (so that you have a clear record you can use later to refresh your memory), including who might have witnessed the events. Make sure that you report the situation as soon as possible to your boss or human resources department.

You have a right to feel safe when you’re at work or among your co-workers. If your employer fails to take corrective action, it may be time to consider other legal options.

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